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Salad Bars at Home Get Kids Eating More Veggies

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The other day a friend shared a huge success with me: her 11-year-old had eaten and enjoyed salad for the first time. She was elated because this is a kid who not so long ago was only willing to eat two raw vegetables: carrots and cucumbers. When we discussed what she thought the change was due to, she chalked it up to the fact that they had joined a farm share and so now the arrival of produce into the house was an exciting event.

I acknowledged that was likely part of the equation, after all who isn’t intrigued by something exciting and new, but I also credited her parenting because she had done something that I often encourage parents to do: consistently and repeatedly offer foods, but without pressure.

Salad Bars at Home Get Kids Eating More VeggiesHow to Get Kids Eating More Veggies

It’s the perennial question: how do I get my kid to eat more vegetables? There are many approaches that parents try: bribery (“if you eat your broccoli you can have dessert”), threats (“no screen time unless you eat your spinach!”), pleading (“just one, tiny, little bite?”), and sneaking (“don’t tell him, but I hid squash in there”).

Very often these tactics either don’t work or backfire for two reasons: 1) they betray our deep desire for kids to eat the foods in question, which signals to them that this is an opportunity to get attention/make a statement/dig in their heels and 2) by entering into these negotiations we are implying that there is something wrong with these foods, that somehow the kids are right to be suspicious or reluctant.

Instead, in my experience both as a formerly picky eater myself and having raised a son through his very picky phase, an approach without pressure, negotiation, threats, and sneaking (all of which I tried without success!) works much more effectively.

But what does that look like? The are a couple of different components to it. The first is that an enthusiasm for the foods in question is modeled by you, the parent. This isn’t done as a performance, but rather by consistently showing your honest enjoyment of these foods. This is effective because our kids are watching us all the time and take note of what we eat and how we eat it.

The second piece is to offer the often rejected foods consistently, but without pressure. Research shows that it can take up to 20 tries for a kid to accept a food. This means that we can’t give up after a rejection or two, but have to keep offering up that broccoli, spinach, and squash. I also encourage you to offer it in different ways such as steamed, roasted, sauteed, and raw, as well as with different condiments, because this will allow your child to explore different flavors and textures and hopefully find one that works for them.

For instance, my older son discovered he liked broccoli when I steamed it and made a cheese sauce to go on top. Once we had that positive experience with broccoli, he then became more open to trying it in other ways.

Finally, try to offer the food in such a way that your child feels empowered to make the food their own and give it a try. And that is I’m a huge believer in the idea that setting up salad bars can get kids eating more veggies.

kids salad

Why Salad Bars Help to Get Kids to Eat More Veggies

I have found that one of the easiest ways to get kids excited about eating more vegetables (and legumes, if that is an issue as well) is to set up a mini salad bar on your kitchen counter or dinner table with lots of colorful ingredients.

Salad bars give kids control over their meal by allowing them to create their own personalized plate. It allows them to build the dish how they like it, it makes it interactive and fun, and it naturally allows you to model the type of behavior you hope to see (taking a little of this, a little of that, and exploring new tastes and textures).

With my own son, I found that serving any and all foods family style was a game changer. He loved to build his plate how he wanted it, he became curious about what was in different bowls, and he loved the freedom to use as many condiments and/or dressings as he liked.

Butternut Squash SaladHow to Easily Build a Successful Salad Bar

Another reason that I am a big fan of a build-your-own salad bar at home is that it is an option that can be prepared ahead of time in bulk, say over the weekend, and then used throughout the week as an easy vegetable side dish with almost any dinner.

What I like to do is chop up different components of the salad bar on the weekend and then store in them in resealable containers that can be pulled out night after night, supplementing as necessary when things start to run out or a certain ingredient isn’t a hit. Then, each evening, I can just pull out the containers, some dressings and other toppings, if desired, and the salad is ready!

Salad bars should be rich in color and texture. Some kid-favorites are:

  • chopped lettuce (especially the crunchier varieties like romaine)
  • shredded carrots
  • diced cucumbers
  • steamed broccoli florets
  • diced cooked beets (really!)
  • grape or cherry tomatoes
  • edamame
  • shredded purple cabbage
  • favorite roasted vegetables (sweet potato, cauliflower, broccoli, and zucchini are all favorites in my house)

In addition, I recommend adding some fun toppings outside of vegetables. Some of our favorites include:

  • chickpeas
  • sunflower seeds
  • raisins or dried cranberries
  • fruit (strawberries, orange pieces, diced apple or pear, pomegranate seeds)
  • nuts
  • olives
  • croutons
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • different salad dressings (vinaigrette, goddess, and ranch are always popular or check out our list of 10 homemade salad dressings for inspiration)

With these “raw” materials, kids are sure to be creative in making not only healthy salads, but also funny faces, pictures and structures – and then eating them! Like this carrot creation my older son made when he was 7.

food art with carrotsWhat a fun and easy way to eat your veggies!

Want more ideas on how to help your kids to eat more vegetables or overcome pickiness? Check out these posts:

How to Get Kids to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

The Importance of Autonomy: Helping Picky Eaters to Try New Things

What are your family’s favorite salad bar items? Or do you have another favorite way to get your kids to eat veggies? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Tricks to Establishing a Back to School Dinner Routine

Thursday 19th of August 2021

[…] nights like those, making grilled cheese sandwiches and a simple salad is a great option, as is a big salad with some crusty bread, or (low-sugar) breakfast cereal with fruit and scrambled […]


Sunday 23rd of August 2020

I liked most vegetables as a child, but hated cooked carrots - until Mom served them in a buttery sauce with candied ginger in it.

Wednesday 26th of September 2012

This is one of those "Duh- why haven't I done this?" ideas- a salad bar at home. For my 9 year old, I would add fresh baby spinach.

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